Specter Ops: Broken Covenant is the first standalone expansion for Emerson Matsuuchi's original Specter Ops game. We loved the original here at Zatu, with our reviewer giving it a whopping 90% score. Would Broken Covenant be as good?
Specter Ops: The Basics
I'm not going to assume that you've played Specter Ops before reading this. I hadn't either before buying Broken Covenant (although, I'll admit, I tracked down and bought the first game soon after buying this one). Both Specter Ops games have the same core mechanics: a lone agent moves secretly around a board, using a pad to track their movement. They are trying to reach three out of four objectives scattered around the board, before escaping without being killed.
Up to three hunters move around on the board trying to find the agent (which can be controlled by a single player, if, like me, you need to be able to play at two). Their objective is to find the agent and deal damage to them at close range OR prevent the agent completing their goals in 40 moves. The game actually plays up to five players. At the highest player count, things change a little and one out of the four hunters is secretly on the side of the agent.
The game is spiced up further with unique character powers. Both the original Specter Ops and Broken Covenant come with four hunters and four agents. Each hunter and agent comes with a unique miniature and unique powers to make things harder for the other team.
A Battle of Wits
Emerson Matsuuchi picks up where he left up in Specter Ops: Broken Covenant. The game is a tour de force of hidden movement, deduction and perfect balance. There is a lot to admire in the design of the game. For example, while the hidden movement naturally favours the agent, both the objective spots and the supply caches (more on these shortly) give the hunters clues to where the agent is. The hunters also have the advantage of being able to discuss their moves if two or more people are controlling them.
The unknown elements lead to real tension on both sides. As I played on a team of two hunters, my friend playing the agent commented how tense he felt waiting for us to make our moves to see if he would get away unscathed. We hunters, however, were constantly tense every turn we failed to find the agent, knowing that he was moving closer to his goals without us knowing what they were. When this tension culminated in the big reveals, where we finally hunted the agent down and cornered him, the resulting experience was highly involved and enjoyable for all.
The variable character powers are interesting and give each agent and hunter a unique identity. Combining these in different ways leads to dozens of different match ups, each with a very different feeling. Some hunters encourage you to move and try to track the agent physically, while others prefer to sit back and pin down the agent's location before moving in.
Similarly, some of the agents are able to fight back when the hunters corner them, while others are able to interfere with the hunters and throw them off the scent in other ways. I've already found myself leaning towards some characters more than others as I find myself preferring some styles of play to others.
On top of their powers, agents also have access to three equipment cards - chosen at the start of the game that give them additional powers. These further tailor each game and add additional interesting decisions.
Improving the Experience from its Predecessor
Despite playing the same as the original game, Broken Covenant introduces a couple of new features. The first is supply caches. These are certain spots on the board that, when the agent occupies them, allow them to draw a new equipment card from a small stack. They serve the interesting twin function of giving the agent more equipment, at the same time as revealing to the hunters that the agent is on a cache (as they can see the agent player draw a card). Finding a balance and throwing both sides something of a bone is a characteristic of Matsuuchi's design in both Specter Ops games. It keeps the game close and interesting for all involved.
The other addition is more of a rules update than a physical change. In the original game, the five player rules didn't really give the traitor hunter anything to do once they were exposed as helping the agent. However, Broken Covenant introduces a rules change that allows the traitor to become an agent and complete objectives just like the original agent. They keep their hunter miniature, but they use a pad to track their movement and become invisible to hunters when they are out of sight on the board. Though I don't have much experience at five players yet, it seems like a good change that keeps everyone involved at all points in the game.
A Note on Components
Specter Ops: Broken Covenant gives you a lot of game for your money. A big, well-designed board, eight stunning miniatures and a number of tokens and cards combine to create this compelling experience. I have to say that a few components seem a little less polished than the first game but there's nothing there to detract from your enjoyment.
A couple of printing errors, like one of the exit arrows missing for some reason, are slightly annoying and strange when we consider Plaid Hat's history of polished games, but they don't detract from the otherwise excellent experience. It's the kind of thing that I want to mention for transparency, but shouldn't put anyone off buying the game who is otherwise interested.
Final Thoughts on Specter Ops: Broken Covenant
I've only owned Specter Ops: Broken Covenant for a few weeks and only played it a handful of times so far, but in that time I've already grown to love it. It looks amazing and plays even better. On top of that, I've combined it with the first game to get even more possible combinations of agents, hunters and maps. I don't see myself ever getting bored of it. Even if there wasn't so many characters to experiment with, the human interaction that is core to the game means that every play will be different.
I have, however, already seen that this game isn't for everyone. My wife found it a little frustrating on her first play through and just didn't get into it as much as I did. That's fine - it's very interactive and the elements of deduction and the unknown won't be for everyone. However, others that I've played it with have loved it as much as me and commented on how different it is from many other games available at the moment. I see myself getting Specter Ops: Broken Covenant to the table in lots of different situations, with many different people loving it as much as I do.